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Mark Durkan: We are in no way exposed in relation to this point. I am explaining carefully and clearly how the decision to appoint Ministers by respective parties was reached. Obviously parties and party leaders would be held to democratic account in different ways for their choices of Ministers. Elsewhere in the agreement we wanted to create an all-Ireland charter for human rights that would be signed by all parties. We always hoped that that would include parties and party leaders making clear declarations about such issues.
Lady Hermon: The hon. Gentleman mentioned a charter of human rights, and I know that later this afternoon we shall come to amendments in his name that relate to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the increased powers proposed for it by his party. His party claims to support human rights, of which the right to life is the most fundamental. How can it reconcile appointing a justice or policing Minister who may well have snuffed out and taken the life of another person with showing respect for human rights?
Mark Durkan: I take the hon. Lady's point. Many people are suspected of exactly the sort of crime that she is talking about, but have no conviction. It may well be possible for somebody whom many people believe has committed such a crime to be appointed a Minister. They would not be disqualified by her amendment, which relates purely to a conviction and imprisonment, so there is no contradiction in our position in relation to upholding human life as the most fundamental human right.
A further reason why I oppose the amendment is that it may have unforeseen applications. If someone is to make a declaration to the Assembly of unequivocal support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, some of us could argue that the Ulster Unionist party now is potentially showing equivocal support. It has a semi-detached position in relation to its membership of the Policing Board. It has some sort of observer status. The UUP members in Belfast are still not sitting on the district policing partnership, as part of their continuing protest at police practices in relation to the Whiterock
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paradean occasion when the police face violent and vicious attack. Rather than condemning those attacks first and foremost, many Unionist representatives sought to condemn the police, the Parades Commission and the Secretary of State. For many of us that raises the question how truly those parties are upholding the rule of law and supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): In my absence, I believe that the hon. Gentleman referred to my role in the negotiations leading up to the Belfast agreement. May I put it on the record that it has never been my position that Ministers involved in criminality, paramilitarism or terrorism of any kind should hold Government office? He will know that I have devoted the last eight years of my life to opposing the proposition that any Minister who has a connection with a paramilitary terrorist organisation should be a Minister in the Government of Northern Ireland. There is nothing in the Belfast agreement that suggests otherwise. The hon. Gentleman will know that it contains provisions, flawed though they are, to apply sanctions to any Minister who is in breach of the ministerial code.
Mark Durkan: I was clear in the recollection that I shared with the Committee on the negotiation of the d'Hondt mechanism. At no point did I say that the hon. Gentleman advocated that people with convictions should be appointed Ministers. I said that he, as one of the negotiators then for the UUP, was clear in accepting the d'Hondt mechanism, and that it would be wrong to have a means whereby parties could be seen to be vetting or vetoingwe used those words at the timeeach other's ministerial appointments. I can recollect further, but I do not want to embarrass him by doing so now. I can share recollections with him outside. I have a colourful recollection of that particular point in the negotiations and his prominent and, I believed at the time, constructive involvement in it.
Lady Hermon: Before the hon. Gentleman closes his remarks, may I say quietly and calmly that I take serious exception to the implication in his earlier remarks that the UUP does not give its full support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland? He will know that my party leader has difficulties with breaches of commitments that were given by the Secretary of State and with the turning of the Policing Board into a quango, instead of a body as suggested by Patten. The implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is most unfortunate.
Mark Durkan: I take the hon. Lady's sentiments, but she has in no way answered the question about the position of UUP members in Belfast who refused to sit on the Belfast district policing partnership and who withdrew in the aftermath of the Whiterock parade, but who continue to sit on the north and west Belfast parades forum with representatives of the very paramilitary organisations that carried out those violent attacks on the police service.
I am simply making the point that the language in this amendment, and in some of the others that have been selected for debate later, can be used to catch and
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challenge parties in a way that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) may not have considered. We can ask fundamental questions about the attitudes of the parties involved, and the US envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss, did just that in respect of Unionist leaders after the Whiterock riots. He has always been very clear and firm about the need to uphold the requirements of a lawful society. He wants Sinn Fein to meet those standards, but he also reminded Unionist leaders that their commitment to those requirements was open to question.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: We are discussing the devolution of policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly, as and when it is up and running. There is much concern on both sides of the House that there is a possibility that the responsibility for such important matters could fall into the wrong hands.
At a recent meeting with the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, I was told about the fears that members of that organisation felt at the prospect of the Assembly controlling policing and justice. I understand that those fears have been communicated to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward).
The amendments in my nameNos. 21 and 22, and new clauses 3 and 4address those fears, and would go some way to easing them. They would ensure that people would not be able to take ministerial office in Northern Ireland unless they made a declaration, before the Assembly, that they supported the Police Service of Northern Ireland and pledged to uphold the rule of law.
Given that we are seeking to devolve policing and justice, it does not seem to me to be asking a lot for potential Ministers to affirm their support for the police. The extra requirement in the amendment is a very minor adjustment, and I should have thought that its inclusion should be axiomatic. Although it might seem a small step to me, I accept that it might seem a large one to some people, yet it would give at least some confidence to members of those political parties in Northern Ireland that show no reluctance about supporting the police and upholding the rule of law that people seeking to hold office would have the appropriate objectives. In other words, the amendments would add to the pledge of office a commitment to support the police. I think that that is reasonable.
New clause 3 would amend section 18 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to ensure that people appointed as Ministers have declared before the Assembly that they also support the police and uphold the rule of law. New clause 4 would amend section 30 of the 1998 Act to allow for the exclusion from office of any person who is no longer committed to supporting the police and upholding the rule of law. It would also provide for the
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exclusion from office of members of any political party that is no longer committed to supporting the police and upholding the rule of law. Finally, it would empower the Secretary of State to require the presiding officer to move a motion in the Assembly excluding people from office if they or their party do not support the police or uphold the rule of law.
I do not see why there should be a great deal of difficulty with the amendments. I heard what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, and I agree with much of it, although I draw a different conclusion. If we leave matters as they are, I understand that there will be stumbling blocks to the devolution of policing and justice, and that more or less the same stumbling blocks would obstruct getting the Assembly up and running in the first place.
I want the Assembly to be up and running, but first we must address the real and legitimate fears of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. One fear is that Ministers will come to office who are not persuaded that they should follow exclusively peaceful means. Another is that some members of the Assembly might be Ministers by day and terroristsif I may use that wordby night.
Those are real fears, and the Government must put pressure on the appropriate people. We have had many debates, in the House and in Committee, and as I said yesterday, the Minister of State has been unfailingly courteous. I cannot remember one occasion when he has refused an intervention, and I am sure that he will agree that members of all parties that have taken part in the debates have behaved in a very reasonable and constructive way.
However, one party has not taken partSinn Fein. The blame for the fact that the Assembly does not sit should be placed not on the constitutional parties that sit in this House, but on the party that does not appear here, and on the IRA. If the Minister accepts the amendments, that would go some way towards addressing the real and legitimate fears expressed many times in the House by the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland.
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